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Comprehensive Waterfront Plan charts the course for the future of New York City

Latest edition of the plan advances a 10-year vision for an equitable, resilient, and healthy waterfront across the five boroughs.

December 19, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
The Hudson River was named the second most endangered river in America for 2019, according to American Rivers. Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo
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Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Anita Laremont announced on Sunday the release of the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, a document that puts forth a broad, 10-year vision for New York City’s 520 miles of waterfront and potential strategies to provide more equitable access to all the waterfront has to offer — such as parks, jobs, and affordable and resilient places to live.

“The waterfront is one of New York City’s most valuable assets. With this latest edition of the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, we’re looking to the next decade of challenges and opportunities on and along the water. From climate justice to well-paying jobs, ferries to parks, this plan looks at how we can further transform our shorelines and waterways to become even more accessible, resilient, and vibrant. This important document provides a road map for tackling the challenges along our waterfront,” said DCP Director Anita Laremont.

“Climate change will affect New York City in profound ways, and we must continue to be proactive in adapting to the climate change impacts that we cannot avoid.  The 2021 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan introduces important strategies to adapt to climate change, including a coastal land use framework,” said Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency. “The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan also articulates a vision for climate justice, recognizing that climate change can exacerbate existing inequities. The Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency will build upon this vision in the forthcoming Climate Adaptation Roadmap, which we plan to release next year.”

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“Testing confirms that NY Harbor is cleaner and healthier today than it has been since the Civil War,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. “With a large capital budget planned for the next several years we expect to see continued water quality improvements that will benefit all New Yorkers.”

“As the stewards of much of New York City’s diverse waterfront—from natural areas to beaches and esplanades — we understand the importance of a comprehensive plan that considers both the impacts of climate change and prioritizes surrounding communities. We applaud DCP for developing this thoughtful roadmap with climate and equity at its core so the City can take much needed steps to addressing these issues over the next decade,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff.

“Given the urgency of climate change and the need to provide more access to the waterfront, we are excited to see New York City put forth a solid and realistic vision for the future of its waterfront and coastline. We commend Department of City Planning on this comprehensive plan and for a process that reflects voices from across the City,” said Cortney Koenig Worrall, CEO and President, Waterfront Alliance. “The CWP should be a guiding vision for the incoming and future administrations. This includes proposed solutions for addressing climate hazards, especially across vulnerable communities; realizing the potential of underutilized shorelines for recreation; and re-imagining the water’s edge as a place to work, live, and play while we work for its protection.”

The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan recognizes the inherent long timeframes for tackling the challenges along the waterfront and in our waterways and is built upon a far-reaching, multi-year public engagement process. The plan is prepared in response to City Council’s Local Law 49 of 2008, which requires that DCP prepare a new Comprehensive Waterfront Plan every 10 years.

Building on a framework of six major interconnected and interdependent topic areas, the plan presents possible ways that city agencies can work together with waterfront communities and other stakeholders to address historic discrimination, build on past successes that made the waterfront more attractive and livable, and take decisive action on climate change while leveraging opportunities for a 21st century working waterfront. The document’s six topic areas are:

·                     Climate Adaptation & Resiliency

·                     Waterfront Public Access

·                     Economic Opportunity

·                     Water Quality & Natural Resources

·                     Ferries

·                     Governance

Climate adaptation & resiliency focuses on potential policies to advance climate justice for all New Yorkers, especially those who have been excluded or marginalized based on their race, income, abilities, or where they live. One of the most daunting challenges New York City faces, prepping for climate change requires a wide range of solutions as outlined in the plan, including in land use policies and infrastructure investments. This could include coastal flood barriers, resilient design practices for buildings, creating new, resilient housing, especially affordable housing in some areas, and limiting growth in the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

The incredible increase in waterfront public access is one of the great New York City success stories that grew out of the previous Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, Vision 2020. The new iteration of the Plan aims to further this work by bridging existing gaps to waterfront access in historically underserved areas, promoting new opportunities to get onto and into the water, ensuring that public open space along shorelines is reflective of community needs and a range of users, and more.

Although our waterfront is not the same type of economic engine that it was a century ago, it’s still a key source of economic opportunity for New Yorkers. This is an exciting moment to build up a 21st century green economy propelled by offshore wind, diversify the jobs available to help New York’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and connect waterfront investments to job trainings and opportunities for local residents, especially in disadvantaged communities, creating a more equitable economy for all.

Over the next decade, the water quality of New York City’s bodies of water will be cleaner and the natural resources along our waterfront will be further restored. COVID-19 further emphasized the importance of our open spaces and natural preserves, both wildly beneficial for our physical and mental health. By continuing work to restore and protect these essential resources, the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan aims to make sure New York’s waterways are the cleanest they’ve been since the Industrial Revolution.

In terms of ridership, New York’s waterways support the largest ferry system in the United States. Ferries provide a boon for those with otherwise limited transit options. The citywide NYC Ferry provides affordable, convenient transportation that supports growing neighborhoods and increases transit resiliency when there are service disruptions. As outlined in the plan, the City will continue to find ways to improve ferry services, such as a faster, lower-emission Staten Island Ferry, and advance the role our waterways play as part of New York’s overall transportation network.

All these challenges, goals, and opportunities highlight the need for good governance that focuses on our shared waterfront. The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan offers an overview of ways to better coordinate across jurisdictions and government levels, improve management and monitoring of waterfront infrastructure, and explore pathways to living shorelines that enhance natural habitats and address rising sea levels.

“We see reflected in the goals of the Plan many we’ve set forth as priorities for Newtown Creek; including a strong focus on climate change adaptations, equitably increasing public access, improving water quality and protecting natural resources, the resilience and investment in our industrial waterfronts, and a coordinated governance approach integrating these goals into our far too often siloed government agencies,” said Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Advocacy and Education, Newtown Creek Alliance. “We are hopeful that the process by which this vision plan was developed, with community engagement at its core, will continue throughout the implementation of its goals.”

“RPA applauds the vision put forward by the NYC Department of City Planning in their Comprehensive Waterfront Plan,” said Robert Freudenberg, Vice President for Energy & Environment at Regional Plan Association. “More than any other waterfront plan of the past, this one begins to address the reality and inequity of the climate crisis, the unique set of challenges we face at the water’s edge, and the types of changes we’ll need to make to become more resilient. While challenging conversations and decisions lie ahead, this plan lays out a blueprint for a more equitable, resilient, and accessible waterfront.”

“It’s important to support the commercial maritime industry in promoting good paying jobs and improving our quality of life.  We welcome our new offshore wind energy sector to our state where a vast maritime transportation system stands ready to serve this new initiative,” said Captain Eric Johansson, Distinguished Professor, SUNY Maritime College.

“Communities of color along our waterfront are at the front lines of climate change which is why I’m thrilled to see the City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan embrace vision of equity, resiliency and health as the beacons for the future of New York City’s waterfront communities,” said Mychal Johnson, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Co-founder of South Bronx Unite.

“The comprehensive waterfront plan lays out a strong and important vision for the city’s waterfront that simultaneously embraces the dual challenges of housing and climate change and provides the road map for us to achieve both,” said Jessica Katz, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Executive Director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council.

“This plan will be a benchmark for how cities can balance environmental protection and equitably increasing waterfront access with maritime commerce and waterfront development. Kudos to the Waterfront Management Advisory Board on delivering a dynamic, inclusive and visionary plan for our City and its 520 miles of waterfront,” said Aaron Koffman, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Managing Principal, The Hudson Companies.

“A New York that lives up to the standards that we’ve laid out in this plan, is a better New York,” said Pete Malinowski, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Executive Director of Billion Oyster Project.

“The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan is a document that’s vital to our city full of shorelines. It’s been my pleasure, as part of two arts organizations, to work with the DCP’s Waterfront team over the past two years to devise novel methods of engaging residents directly in bringing this plan to life,” said Clarinda Mac Low, Executive Director of Culture Push. “We at Culture Push and Works on Water have been so impressed with the team’s devotion to reaching out to every part of the public. They brought us in as partners, and listened to artists and their communities, allowing our artists to create exciting scenarios and innovative methods of raising awareness around the different stages of creating the plan. The CWP brings in a gorgeous array of voices from all over New York City, and provides a deeply thoughtful roadmap to our challenging watery future.”

“The participatory process that has led to the creation of this Comprehensive Waterfront Plan is indeed exemplary. The ideas in this plan, generated and refined in so many meetings, clearly reflect how passionate New Yorkers are about the future threats and opportunities of our waterfront,” said Geeta Mehta Ph.D,  AIA, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Columbia University.

“The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan is the holiday gift most New Yorkers didn’t know they wanted, but will enjoy every day for the next 10 years. It is a vision for the city’s future that interweaves environmental justice, climate crisis, health and wellness, and economics for all five boroughs, starting with their waters and their shores,” said Nancy Nowacek, Co-Founder, Works on Water.

“This latest New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan recognizes the challenges facing our shorelines today,” said Robert Pirani, Director of the New York – New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program at the Hudson River Foundation. “Advancing coastal resiliency, enhancing ecosystem health, and providing for equitable access to nature will help ensure that our waterways are an asset for every New Yorker.”

“I commend the release of the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan that was built on over three years of robust public engagement and anchored in the three key beacons of resiliency, equity, and health. I look forward to working with the City and our partners to ensure that many of the principles outlined in the plan are implemented in future projects,” said Rebecca Pryor of Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay.

“I applaud the Department of City Planning for preparing the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan that lays out the most progressive climate resiliency-focused land-use framework of any city in the United States. This Plan puts equity and the health and future of New York City’s most flood vulnerable communities first and sets a benchmark for coastal communities across the nation,” said Laurie Schoeman, National Director, Resiliency and Disaster Recovery, Enterprise Community Partners.

“Gotham Whale has witnessed massive change to the waters around New York City. We have documented that this area is now a feeding ground for humpback whales. Wildlife is coming back and the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan is essential to anticipating such change and plan the City’s waterfront to continue improving the health of New York’s marine environment, for the betterment of both humans and whales,” said Paul L. Sieswerda, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and President and CEO of Gotham Whale.

“As an architect engaging diverse communities throughout the city, I’m constantly reminded how important it is to create designs that respond to people’s needs.  The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan offers this—sharing the best practices and most creative thinking for all our waterfronts,” said Jay Valgora, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Founder of STUDIO V.

“I am excited on advocating to open up more public access on the waterfront for recreational uses and addressing the issues of a ‘user friendly’ waterfront,” said Henry Wan, President of Wan Group and Chair of Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

“I was delighted to see the attention the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan devoted to our coastal marshes, vital and now-scarce ecosystems, which need protection and restoration. Thanks to the Department of City Planning for this thorough vision of the future of our waterfront,” said Judith Weis, Member of the Waterfront Management Advisory Board and Professor Emerita at Rutgers University.

While DCP leads the process for creating the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, it is a citywide document and numerous City agencies have engaged in the planning process. This interagency collaboration is a critical part of the overall planning process, helping to further city priorities and align them with what we heard over the course of our public outreach and have incorporated into this document.

The release of the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan follows more than three years of public collaboration, through dozens of in-person and remote workshops, waterfront tours, participating in seasonal or nature-focused festivals and our Waterfront Planning Camp. DCP continued engagement with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic through online programs like #WaterfrontWednesdays and Walking the Edge, done in collaboration with local arts and not for profit organizations, and remote workshops on draft goals and strategies.

From traditional engagement strategies to out-of-the-box ideas, DCP identified creative ways to engage new groups and spark a renewed interest in NYC’s waterfront from the very beginning of its process. This approach was important in helping DCP reach new participants and capture perspectives that traditional public engagement methods might not reach.

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